Wed. Dec 8th, 2021

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to be. Subscribe here. © 2021. All rights reserved.

Maureen Clarke and Kevin Kaminski were looking to buy a top fixer in Brooklyn in 2008 when they came across an article about resident curator programs. Interestingly, they learned more about public-private partnerships operating in several states in the eastern part of the country, including Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia and Massachusetts.

How do they work? Resident or historical commissioners (individuals or commercial and non-profit entities) receive a long-term lease of a historic public property building in exchange for restoring the property and providing ongoing maintenance.

“When it comes to annual budget priorities, putting money into empty historic buildings is not always a high priority, so it’s a funding challenge, but it’s also a use challenge,” said Kevin Allen, who has managed the Massachusetts program for the past 15 years. “We can keep a building that has four walls and it looks fantastic, and we do it sometimes, but to really keep a building alive you have to occupy it.”

After doing some research, the couple felt that they had found their vocation, and that with Kaminski’s skills (she had previously worked in a house in Easton, Pennsylvania for several years that won a National Trust for Historic Preservation award) they would be ideal candidates. Once they realized that these programs did not exist in New York or New Jersey, they settled in Massachusetts, which had the “mother load” of properties.

“We would download the maps of the park that showed the houses that interested us from the [Department of Conservation and Recreation] and we would only go to visit them on the weekends, look out the windows and explore the property, it was like going for a treasure, ”Clarke said. “One after the other had gone too far, there was too much damaged water, there was too much work.”

One before and one after the Dodge House.

Maureen Clarke

Eventually, they fell in love with a small counter building known as Dodge House, located to the south, on a hill in Bradley Palmer State Park, in the city of Hamilton.

“We could look beyond the degradation to know that it was going to make a splendid sun once the tables were out the windows,” he said.

Applying for a resident curator is a laborious process: it took Clarke and Kaminski about two years to get their lease at Dodge House. And the competition was tough; according to Allen, the Dodge House received the most “legitimate” proposals its office has ever seen: four. Many of the properties listed do not receive an offer for their condition.

“It’s one thing to watch HGTV and think, ‘Oh, I’m going to sand the balusters over the weekend,’ and then you go home and you see the guano raccoon hanging from the ceiling, and all of a sudden your romantic interests are crushed.” Allen said. “It’s really a rehearsal for fire.”

The commissioners are chosen through a competitive process where they are evaluated based on the quality of their proposed reuse, the strength of their rehabilitation plan, their experience, qualifications and financial capacity, their presentation and general organization, as well as the scope and nature of its element of public benefit. Usually for the latter, commissioners hold an open day once or twice a year.

And while many people are initially drawn to the idea of ​​“free rent,” being a resident curator is nothing.

In Massachusetts, where leases range from 10 to 50 years, Allen estimated that single-family resident curators spend approximately $ 500,000 to $ 1 million on restoration and maintenance. Stephanie Langton, who manages the Fairfax County Park Authority’s resident commissioners program in Virginia, said her resident commissioners typically spend between $ 150,000 and $ 400,000 over their 10 to 20-year leases.

A room in the Dodge House before the renovations.

Maureen Clarke

The benefit to the states is immense; in Massachusetts, which currently has 24 leased properties, the overall foreign investment in historic properties is more than $ 38 million since the program created by the legislation in 1994.

Although much of the heavy lifting is done at Clarke and Kaminski, improvements and maintenance are an ongoing process. Meanwhile, Clarke, who aims to get the house with renewable energy, has focused his attention on eradicating invasive species and restoring native plantations along his 1.33-acre property.

This same room, after the renovation.

Maureen Clarke

“It’s a lot, but we love it,” he said. “We are adventurers; it’s not for everyone “.

According to Allen, resident curators are usually a very specific subset of people.

“It is the definitive needle of the barn; everything has to be aligned and even if you make the numbers align, at the end of the day, all of our conservatives have a deeply emotional connection to the property, ”he said. “Being able to benefit from your own skills, experience and sweat equity is another kind of lifestyle that many of our healers have been really fascinated with.”

Massachusetts is currently searching for expressions of interest for two properties. The Fairfax County Resident Commissioners program has several homes who will begin accepting applications soon. For more information on Clark and Kaminski’s journey as resident conservatives, visit their website.

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to be. Subscribe here. © 2021. All rights reserved.

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